Dialectics — Towards an elementary understanding

DIALECTICS — Towards an elementary understanding
(Dialectics being understood in the sense of Marx)

i) Dialectics can be (should be?) characterised as the study of self-reproducing and evolving “totalities” or “wholes”.

ii) This definition is based on the meaning of “motion” for totalities as opposed to elementary phenomena such as balls, bullets or stones. Motion is dialectically understood as the contradiction of “being there” and “not being there” in both space and time for simple objects. Self-reproduction and evolution are the two corresponding aspects (corresponding to being there and not being there respectively) of the contradiction characterising the motion of a “totality”.

iii) Without a world “being there”, there will be nothing to comprehend, understand and act upon. At the same time, “not being there” is essential to change. A world in motion is not a world in ceasless “flux”, a fleeting world where there is nothing to hold on to. 

iv) Dialectics is the proper study of materialism when the world (both natural and social ) is in motion. Traditional presentations of materialism tend to assume a static and unchanging objective reality. In the presence of motion, categories such as essence, existence, objective reality, and so on have to be interpreted carefully taking account of motion, change and development. Categories such as “coming-to-be” or “coming-into-existence” cannot be made sense of in traditional materialism and need a proper grasp of dialectics. For instance, In traditional presentations of materialism, “coming-to-be” and “to-be” are routinely considered identical, whereas this is not in general true.

v)The negation of the negation is fundamental to understanding the nature of “totalities”, otherwise “totalities” as a category, and more generally materialism itself, will be metaphysical and abstract. The same holds for the fundamental unity of opposites (contradiction and ground) — without the unity of opposites, totalities will be without determinations and empty.

vi) The true meaning of possibility and necessity and their dialectical relationship is understood only in the context of self-reproduction and evolution (Darwinian evolution being the classic example of this). And it is only in this context can we make sense of the relationship of structure and agency in the social world.

vi) The very notion of “totality” or “whole” can only come by going beyond the illusion of the world as a fragmented, unconnected multiplicity, as we immediately apprehend in our perception. And it is only through seeing the world as made of totalities can we see how the illusion arises.

There, I have this off my chest and put down in writing. There is obviously hell of a lot more to be said, but this is perhaps a beginning.

[[ I am grateful to Ganesh KN for the opportunity to speak on the subject of Dialectics and Capital at the EMS Academy on 30th Nov. It helped me in clarifying these thoughts and moving my attempt to understand dialectics forward — even if, regretfully, participants may not have found the presentation upto their expectations. The above are some highlights of what I picked up in preparing for the presentation.]]


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